Tag Archives: Zendaya

The Worm Will Turn

Dune: Part Two

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Never trust the white guy.

Is that the theme of Denis Villeneuve’s second installment of the Frank Herbert sci-fi epic? A colonizer twists religion to convince a huge population to act in their own worst interests? Sounds more like modern times, but maybe the blandly named Paul (Timothée Chalamet) really is The One.

Dune: Part Two is as breathtaking a vision as Villeneuve’s 2021 Part One. And it’s a better film, benefitting immeasurably from the freedom of exposition that weighed down Part One. The sequel rides intensity and action from its opening segment.

Having taken refuge with his mother (Rebecca Ferguson, still the most interesting performance in the film) among the Fremen, Paul tries to understand his visions while fighting alongside Chani (Zendaya), the woman he loves, to take back the spice-rich planet Arrakis from the evil and extremely pale Harkonnen.

Villeneuve’s world-building is again a wonder to behold. He immerses us in this world of sand and savagery, providing fully realized reminders of how much Herbert’s original vision has influenced iconic sci-fi tentpoles such as Mad Max and Star Wars.

And, in turn, this Dune isn’t shy about its own inspirations. From the conversion of Paul to the schemes behind the throne, from the cries of “false prophet!” to the bloodline surprises, Villeneuve and returning co-writer Jon Spaihts bob and weave the narrative through a fertile playground of Biblical and Shakespearean roots.

The ensemble is again large and mighty, sporting a litany of heavyweights (Javier Bardem, Florence Pugh, Josh Brolin, Charlotte Rampling, Christopher Walken, Léa Seydoux, Stellan Skarsgård, Austin Butler, Dave Bautista) who are all able to leave unique impressions amid the battle of screen time.

And that tells you how many characters are populating this adventure, because there is no shortage of screen time. But while Part Two‘s 2 hours and 45-minutes eclipse the first film, you’ll also find more meat on the bone. Yes, the second act does bog down a bit, but the finale sticks a damn fine landing. Overall, there’s just more earned tension, more thrills (get ready for the worms!) and more character arc to keep you invested in this fight.

Part Two also feels like the complete film that its predecessor did not, and it begins to pick the scab off that “white savior” issue, although we’ll need to get to Part Three to really do it justice. Even if there is not a third installment (and let’s be honest, there’s going to be), Dune: Part Two delivers a satisfying and complete adventure all its own.

Ready Player Bron

Space Jam: A New Legacy

by George Wolf and Hope Madden

You think the GOAT debate about hoop gets heated? Just wait ’til your twitter thread blows up with hot takes on the thespian greatness of Jordan vs. LeBron!

Yeah, that’s not likely to happen.

I can tell you Don Cheadle is a great actor, and he’s clearly having a ball as the high-tech heavy in Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Cheadle is Al G. Rhythm, a (what else?) algorithm inside the Warner 3000 computer system that has designed a can’t miss WB idea for LeBron James. But LeBron is not impressed, so Al decides to get even by pitting LBJ against his own 12 year-old son, Dom (Cedric Joe).

Dom is actually more interested in video game design than basketball, but feels pressured by his superstar Dad to follow in the family business. Al seizes on this rift, pulling father and son into the virtual world, stealing Dom’s design for a basketball video game, and offering a deal.

You guessed it: classic Tunes (featuring Zendaya voicing Lola Bunny) vs. some brand new Goons (basketball superstars including Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Diana Turasi). A win for the Tune Squad puts the James family back to normal, but a loss means they’ll stay in the “server-verse” forever.

Adding WNBA stars and a new look for Lola are just two of the ways director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip, The Best Man franchise) and the writing team succeed with an updated premise required for new sensibilities. Sure, the resolution of the father-son tension is predictable, but it manages a schmaltzy level of resonance amid the cartoon nuttiness that we’re really here for.

The antics of your favorite Looney Tunes characters (aside from an ill-advised, rapping Porky Pig) are classically looney, but the script also scores with some topical, self-aware humor aimed at the digital age, a classic Dave Chappelle bit, and LeBron himself (Dom: “Did my Dad leave?” Al: “That’s what he does, isn’t it?”)

And while the original ’96 Space Jam always smacked of product placement marketing, A New Legacy ups that ante, dropping LBJ and friends into any number of Warner properties, from Casablanca to Rick & Morty. Shameless, yes. Fun? Also yes.

As for King James, he follows that standout cameo in Trainwreck with a lead performance that alternates between awkward and decent. He does bring more natural onscreen charisma than Jordan (there’s a reason MJ barely speaks in his TV ads), but I’m guessing the task of acting opposite cartoons didn’t help with James finding a comfort zone in his first lead role.

But LeBron sure looks at home on the court, and once everybody joins him (and I mean everybody – have fun scanning the crowd), Lee rolls out some frantically fun game action with plenty of visual pop. This Space Jam may follow some of the original’s playbook, but there’s enough “new” here to justify the title, and by the time the buckets and anvils start dropping, A New Legacy finds its own fun and satisfying groove.

Teen Titan

Spider-Man: Far From Home

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Spider-Man: Far From Home has more than a webshooter up its sleeve.

One part reflection on the state of MCU, one part statement on our cartoonishly ridiculous world today, one part charming coming-of-age tale, the latest Spidey episode almost takes on more than it can carry. But return writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers embrace franchise strengths while betting director Jon Watts, also back from Homecoming, can maneuver slick surprises.

The wager pays off, and Far From Home winds up being a film that feels a bit campy for a while, but in retrospect succeeds precisely because of those early over-the-top moments.

Peter Parker (the immeasurably charming Tom Holland), having returned from oblivion (Infinity War), then universal salvation and personal loss (Endgame), would like a vacation. The poor kid just wants to take a trip abroad with his class and get a little closer to his crush MJ (Zendaya).

But that is not to be, is it?

Not with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) following him across the globe, or the surprise appearance of Quentin Beck aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a new monster-slayer from another Earthly dimension.

“You mean there really is a multi-verse?”

That’s a nice nod to the stellar animated Spidey adventure from last year, and a big clue about how self-aware this chapter is determined to be. The front and center ponderings about what Peter (and by extension, Marvel) is going to do now threaten to collapse the film from self-absorption.

To the rescue: a jarring and unexpected pivot, and that wonderfully youthful vibe that now has one eye on growing up.

Interestingly, Tony Stark fills in for the guilt-inducing father figure that’s always been missing from this iteration of Peter Parker’s tale. Without Uncle Ben, Stark becomes that hallowed hero whose shadow threatens to obliterate the fledgling Avenger.

Peter’s still a teenager, after all, and Homecoming soared from embracing that fact, and from Holland’s ability to sell it in all its wide-eyed and awkward glory.

He still does, but now our hero’s naiveté is shaken by some mighty timely lessons. Number one: “It’s easy to fool people when they’re already fooling themselves.”

Not exactly subtle, but fitting for the world of a distracted teen. And for kids of all ages, there’s no denying how cathartic it is to see world leaders, their media lapdogs and widespread buffoonery on blast and blasted across the largest screens, where good will inevitably conquer.

As fun and funny as this keep-you-guessing Eurotrip is, its core is driven by a simple search for truth. And don’t leave early, because that search doesn’t stop until Far From Home plays its second post-credits hand, and you walk out re-thinking everything you just saw.

Tangled webs, indeed.

Mythbuster

Smallfoot

by George Wolf

So, while we’re down here debating the existence of Sasquatch/Yeti/Bigfoot, an entire community of them lives above the clouds, wondering the same about us shorter, wee-footed folk.

That’s a cute and clever conceit for a family tale that might look a lot like Pixar’s Monsters, Inc., which makes it even more surprising when WB’s Smallfoot instead flirts with becoming the most ballsy, subversive animated film since Zootopia. It’s a film with big ideas, some generic and some risky, but just too many to juggle into a truly memorable takeaway.

Channing Tatum leads the voice cast as Migo, an affable Yeti who has always bought in to everything his village’s “Stonekeeper” (Common) was selling, including the fact that the legendary Smallfoot wasn’t real. But then Migo sees one, which raises some questions, and questions themselves are a problem.

Migo, like all the Yeti, has been taught to suppress any questions he may have about the stones the Stonekeeper is keeping. Those stones guide the beliefs of the Yeti through the various statements written on each. You might even call them…commandments.

Woah.

Smallfoot raises eyebrows early, but once Migo manages to bring smallfooted Percy (James Corden) back to his village, it settles into a pleasantly entertaining mix of messages, music, and Looney Tunes-worthy pratfalls.

Tatum gives our hero a fine voice (though his singing is a bit thin), Corden is always fun and the support cast (including Zendaya, Danny DeVito, Gina Rodriguez and LeBron James) is capably unique, but co-directors Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig chase too many snowtrails.

Some moments, like the Stonekeeper telling Migo about the ease of deception, find their mark, while others such as Percy’s struggles with reality TV become overly familiar distractions.

The driving theme here is truth, and how very hard it can be to find. Question, be brave, explore science as well as faith. Maybe sing a song. Though Smallfoot doesn’t deliver on its radical beginnings, it finds a comfort zone less likely to spark partisan rancor in the aisle.